light into ashes
Sep 29, 2011 6:07am
The Dead & Glastonbury Fair
In June 1972, two triple albums came out that included live, unreleased Grateful Dead music. The Fillmore: The Last Days album featured Casey Jones & Johnny B Goode from the Dead’s 7/2/71 concert at the Fillmore West, a year earlier. But deadheads in the US might not have known that in the UK at the same time, a Dark Star from the recent European tour was also being released on an obscure, limited-edition triple-album commemorating the Glastonbury Fair in June 1971.
The Europe ’72 album would not be released until November, as the Dead spent months overdubbing their live tracks in the studio – but while they were still in Europe, the Dead had mixed and donated this Dark Star specially for the Glastonbury album. While the Dead were quick to play benefits and festivals, they almost never offered their live performances for release on compilation albums. In fact this would be the last live recording they donated to anyone, and the only non-overdubbed Europe ’72 performance to be released, until the mid-‘90s.
An interesting tale lies behind this Dark Star...
Our story begins back in 1971, when the Dead flew to France. As Phil Lesh wrote, “One day in June ’71 an offer came in out of the blue for us to play a big festival near Paris... Someone must have decided that it would be hip to have at least one American band; why they chose us I’ll never know. Nonetheless, we jumped at the chance. Upon arrival, we learned that the festival had been rained out...”
Bill Kreutzmann recalled the next year: “We tried to play once in Paris. The festival was rained off, and we ended up playing for the local farmers and little kids… We just had a giant party.” They were staying at the Chateau d’Herouville for a few days, and although they didn’t do any recording in the new studio that was on the premises, they did play a spontaneous solstice show on June 21 for the residents of Herouville. It was a party the Dead would fondly remember.
Over in England, another solstice festival was starting up: the Glastonbury Fair, which ran from June 22-26. The Glastonbury promoters had the same idea as the French promoters – a big rock festival just wasn’t complete without the Grateful Dead! So the Dead were invited. Unfortunately, though it would have been but a short trip to England from France, they decided not to go, and just flew home.
As was written in the Book of the Dead (printed in London, May ’72): “Last summer there was a surprise flight to Paris to play a festival that was rained off. It was hoped then that they might play at Glastonbury. ‘We didn’t go because somebody told us it was a sea of mud, and we weren’t about to take our equipment through that, having just been rained out in Paris,’ says Phil Lesh. They were disappointed; they’d like to play at Glastonbury, it is one of Lesh’s special projects, but as Garcia says: ‘It just didn’t seem right at the time.’” (Their memories of the chilly, rainy Hollywood Festival back in May 1970 may have influenced them as well!)
As it turned out, the Glastonbury Festival went quite well, with good sunny weather, joyous hippie crowds, and free music. As one newsletter reported: “For the people who came it was all they could have asked for. About 8,000, together for nearly a week to hear 35 groups, sit in the sun, get stoned, make love, and roam around in the beautiful countryside – all for free… Even though the long-awaited and much-talked about superstars The Dead, Airplane, CSN&Y etc, never actually made it, the music was very good and continuous.”
The Dead actually shared a lot of the mystical ideas that lay behind the Glastonbury festival.
This site describes the original festival – http://www.ukrockfestivals.com/glasmenu.html
Andrew Kerr, who organized the festival, said, “There seemed to be a need for a truly free festival. All the others had some profit motive behind them.”
A contemporary news article wrote that Kerr chose Glastonbury as the site because “Glastonbury Abbey is supposed to have been built as a spiritual successor to Stonehenge, and in accord with the same hidden elements of geometry and numerology… [Kerr] claims he is trying to recreate a prehistoric science, whose huge energies are not recognized by modern society.
“His ideas are based on the writings of antiquarian John Michell, who in a book called The View Over Atlantis, recently elucidated the spiritual engineering which, he says, was known over the ancient world. All bodies in the universe, according to Michell, give off natural energy… At the summer solstice, energies from the planets, the sun, and the constellations are at their height. The earth gives off energies through certain valves in its surface, called blind springs. The Great Pyramid in Egypt, Stonehenge itself, and the great pre-reformation Gothic churches were designed to accumulate this terrestrial current, to conduct the solar spark and fuse the two.
“For the festival, Kerr has had his own pyramid of steel girders built over a blind spring…exactly a tenth of the size of the Great Pyramid… ‘Imagine,’ says Kerr, ‘we’re going to concentrate the celestial fire and pump it into the planet to stimulate growth… I am sure we shall all experience something very wonderful.’”
Lesh had a synchronous experience in France during the days the Glastonbury fair was being put together: “For some time, I had been reading in an alternate history of consciousness…that earlier cultures might have been vastly more advanced in some areas of wisdom than we. The research I’d been doing in sacred geometry and ancient earth science had revealed the existence of a completely new perspective on spiritual history, especially the knowledge that many Christian holy places in Europe…had been erected over ‘pagan’ sites of worship, and those in turn were sited upon or near places of geomantic power, involving currents of telluric energy and underground springs.” Lesh visited the Notre Dame cathedral, as one of these sites of power.
On arriving in England in April 1972, Lesh and Garcia lost no time in visiting Stonehenge and Glastonbury, and were particularly impressed by Glastonbury Tor, an ancient hill used as a place of worship in medieval times. Lesh wrote that they “had become fascinated by the lore and legend surrounding this area, and while on the road had shared many books about its connection with Arthurian legend.”
McNally writes that Lesh had started studying “John Michell, who was the contemporary father of geomancy, the study of ley lines, lines of magnetism and power on earth. Ley lines form a grid on the earth that connects megalithic power spots like the ancient stone circles. It was upon these sites that old English churches were frequently built, which was how early Christianity co-opted the ancient Druidic/goddess religion.”
Steve Silberman writes how Lesh & Garcia toured England’s ‘sacred sites’ and “hung out with author John Michell, whose book The View Over Atlantis impressed them with its meditations on ley lines, vectors of power running through particular locations on the earth – a phenomenon they’d noticed themselves, musing on why they seemed to play better in certain places.”
Lesh was quite taken by Stonehenge: “It clarified my whole idea of trying to put our music into a place, how it would change. How it could be different. And the whole concept of places of power…so much consciousness poured into it, that it still vibrates.”
The Dead wouldn’t put this idea into action until Egypt ’78, with dubious success. But it is obvious how much Lesh’s ideas were in accord with Andrew Kerr’s, and why Lesh would have regretted not playing at the Glastonbury festival! As late as 1981, Lesh visited the Glastonbury site and (Alan Trist writes) “examined the pyramid stage built on the line from Stonehenge to Glastonbury Tor and scaled to some fraction of the Great Pyramid.” Lesh says he was hoping “to discuss the possibility of playing the famed festival at midsummer, our contemporary version of Druidical solstice rites. Alas, it never happened…”
Kerr had located the Glastonbury Fair stage according to the principles of ‘sacred geometry’: the stage site, he wrote, “is linked to Stonehenge, the Glastonbury Zodiac, and the great cosmic pattern of ley lines and energy points,” and he built the pyramidal stage so it would be in alignment with the sunrise and the constellations. “The stage at Glastonbury Fair was built in the form of the Great Pyramid on a powerful blind spring in the hope that it would draw to it beneficial astrological influence into our tired planet. We hoped that people would go away feeling a lot better for the experience, more creative, happier, and more appreciative of the wonders of the Universe…”
In organizing the festival as a free event, Kerr and the other promoters had lost quite a bit of money. Kerr wrote, “Unfortunately you can’t put on anything these days without it costing a lot of money… All the bread it took up to now has been given without thought of any profit. Everyone gave their ability, their energy, their love… If you have any more to give, it would make us feel even better. Glastonbury Fair has started something which must not be allowed to stop. The energy, the ability, the impetus can now be used to do more research… Solstice Capers Limited are forming an ecological trust which will enable nuts like us to continue the experiment. We hope to acquire an island off the west coast of Scotland where we can play music to the land and learn to live in harmony with the Universe…”
In early 1972 Kerr had the idea of putting together an album of music by the bands who’d played at Glastonbury, as one way of raising the money. (A film of the festival was also being edited, and was released in May ’72.) A number of bands were contributing tracks – and though the Dead hadn’t even played there, Kerr asked them as well!
The Book of the Dead tells us that when the Dead came to England in ‘72: “In London this time they were approached by Andrew Kerr, who organised the Festival at great financial loss, to lay down some tracks for the double LP he is putting together to recoup money. Garcia and Lesh both hope the band can do it, if they aren’t too wasted by months on the road…”
The Dead decided not to wait til they were back in the US, but arranged some studio time on their return trip to London in May. Blair Jackson writes: “There was a plan afoot before the tour for the Dead to spend a few days in London after the Lyceum shows, to do some recording at Olympic Studios, but that was abandoned early on. The British engineers they wanted to work with weren’t available, and besides, they’d just recorded their entire tour and had the prospect of wading through…17 miles of tape.”
It’s interesting to speculate what the Dead might have recorded – a studio version of He’s Gone or other new songs? – but they used the London studio time to select and mix one of the live tracks they’d taped.
Alan Trist writes that while they were playing at the London Lyceum in May, “Garcia, Matthews and I went down to a studio in Soho to mix a track from the earlier Wembley Stadium concerts… John Coleman of Revelation Enterprises was producing an album to benefit the empty coffers of Solstice Capers, the organizers of the previous year’s inaugural Glastonbury Fair. We were on our way with a contribution from the Dead…
The year before, a visionary Englishman, Andrew Kerr, had put forward the idea that a festival in the heart of Southwest England’s megalithic countryside would be attractive to the band… They couldn’t make it in 1971, but now they agreed to donate a 24-minute Dark Star as part of a commemorative album to help the Fair continue.”
The resulting Revelation Enterprises release, Glastonbury Fayre, turned out to be a lavish triple-album set: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glastonbury_Fayre_
There’s a link there to the allmusic review – and there’s also a very wordy review of the album here: http://www.headheritage.co.uk/unsung/review/1610
It’s said that only 5,000 copies were distributed in the UK, making the original album a rare collector’s item. As the review says, it was “released in the summer of 1972 with the aim of clawing back some of the money lost in the throwing of the ‘first’ Glastonbury festival…and featuring music recorded at that event along with donated contributions from other sources by artists who had played or were sympathetic to the cause.”
There was a mix of live and studio tracks from artists who’d played at the 1971 festival like Hawkwind, Gong, and the Pink Fairies (only some of which had actually been recorded at Glastonbury), and donations from other luminaries. The Grateful Dead took pride of place on side A.
The Dead’s track, titled ‘Dark Star…bury’, was 24 minutes of the Dark Star from 4/8/72.
Now this is famed as one of the Dead’s peak Dark Stars, with an ending that defines the heights they could reach. It’s also one of the only non-Live/Dead Dark Stars that’s been the subject of a long musical analysis, which is well worth reading: http://www.ridethewind.org/DarkStar040872Odd-essay.htm.htm
(The author points out that since ’73 he’s listened frequently to “the 24 minute extract (5.28 – 29.43) that the Dead gave to the…‘Glastonbury Fayre’ LP as a token of apology for not making the 1971 solstice Festival.”)
It was the second live Dark Star to be released (and the last until the ‘90s), and a very interesting choice. Of course Dark Star was probably out of consideration for the Europe ’72 album since it had been on a live album just three years earlier. Also, the ‘special’ cosmic qualities of Dark Star as a song would have made it a natural selection for the Glastonbury Fayre album.
It’s hard to say whether the Dead picked this Dark Star because it was particularly magical, or simply because it had been played in London and so was geographically the closest Star to Glastonbury! They were familiar with their tapes, so by the end of the tour they already knew what the best performances had been. (The Book of the Dead mentions that back on the boat journey to Denmark, they had listened to the tapes of the Wembley shows.)
Dennis “Wiz” Leonard, on the Alembic taping crew, writes: “I would write [the setlists] on the tape boxes… We would chat on our intercom after songs, and Matthews, Betty, and I would decide how many stars to give a song: three stars meant it was a really good performance! The star system was used when we got back home in order to focus on candidates for the Europe ’72 album.” (The few tapeboxes that have been reproduced show that they were rather sparing with their stars, along with a few notes, such as 5/10/72 Amsterdam: “This is dynamite,” or 5/26/72 London: “We’re all really stoned now.”)
The mix is quite democratic, with Garcia off on one side, Godchaux on the other, and Lesh and Weir in the middle. Comparatively, this tends to emphasize Keith’s contributions. (And here is a point where I must complain that the new box-set mix has buried Keith in the back for some senseless reason, though he was still up all right in the Steppin’ Out mix. This was a major error by the 2011 mixing crew...)
That Dark Star was 31:30, hence too long for an album side – LP records generally did not go over 25 minutes a side, or the sound quality would go down (the Dead’s 24-minute track is the longest side on the Glastonbury Fayre set). Since the Dead had to cut somewhere, they dropped the intro of Dark Star, and the track fades in about 5:30 into Dark Star, during an expectant moment. The effect is actually similar to the fade-in on Live/Dead!
Dark Star continues to nearly the end – they leave out the last two minutes, fading as the band starts the descending Mind Left Body-type riff. (I would’ve liked it to go for another minute or so to capture the concluding happy groove, but they apparently felt it was complete enough – at any rate, most of the highlights of this Star were included.)
And so, the Glastonbury Fayre album was quickly released to an uncertain world, and the Dead returned to California to record studio overdubs for Europe ’72 over the next few months. (After which, the Europe tapes were left untouched until the Hundred Year Hall release in 1995. The Dead didn’t contribute unreleased live tracks to any more benefit albums until 1994, when they gave the 3/29/90 Bird Song to a CD raising funds for Bay Area music school programs.)
The Dark Star excerpt from the Glastonbury album eventually started circulating in deadhead collections as a tape filler, prompting many to wonder about the full Dark Star it had come from. The horrid 4/8/72 audience tape that was available didn’t satisfy the few who tried to listen to it. Finally, in 1996 David Gans played the whole Dark Star suite on his radio show for all to enjoy; and in 2000 the entire show emerged at last.
The Glastonbury festival was later revived in 1979 to stimulate the tired planet, and continues to this day, though the Dead never made it there...